How to Identify
Geo. N. Lamb
This book is for those who appreciate the
rare beauty and "stay-ability" of genuine Ma-
hogany—nature's perfect gift from the tropical
jungle. It is hoped that the information here
presented will help the many lovers of Mahogany
to avoid imitations and substitutes and assist
them in the selection of the genuine, to their
MAHOGANY ASSOCIATION, INC.
75 East Wacker Drive
Pnnted in U.S.A.
Mahogany grows only as widely scattered trees in
the depth of the tropical jungle.
For Inexperienced Buyers
If the buyer is in a hurry or does not wish to acquire
the special information necessary to be able to recognize Mahog-
any, the following are three rules that will make it possible
to avoid substitutes when inquiring for furniture of genuine
1. Purchase only from a retailer with an established
reputation for honest dealing.
2. Look for the official Mahogany Association label.
All genuine Mahogany furniture is not yet so labeled
but all furniture so labeled is warranted by the
manufacturer to be genuine Mahogany since under
the terms of the license covering the use of Mahog-
any Association labels, they may be affixed only to
genuine Mahogany furniture.
3. If furniture is unlabeled, insist that a full guarantee
be written on the invoice by the retailer. Furniture
represented as solid genuine Mahogany or repre-
sented as genuine Mahogany should be so described
on the invoice. Unwillingness to do so raises a doubt
as to the accuracy of the representations that have
HOW TO IDENTIFY MAHOGANY
Mahogany in the unfinished state ranges from yellowish
and pinkish to golden brown in color. With the stains and
bleaches available to the wood finisher, color is not a deter-
mining factor in the identification of the wood in finished pieces.
Most present day Mahogany furniture is finished so as to
bring out the natural color of the wood, i.e., a sherry brown
Mahogany wood shows well distributed but not crowded
pores, from medium to rather large in size. They show up on
smooth surfaces as distinct but fine pen lines, dashes or dots
according to whether the cut runs with or across the grain. In
the pores there are occasional dark glistening black deposits;
more rarely the pores also contain a whitish substance. Suc-
cessive growth rings are marked by fine concentric lines in
American Mahogany but these lines are not usually present in
African Mahogany. The rays or flakes are fine but show up
minutely on perfectly quartered pieces. On flat cut surfaces
FOOTNOTE: Four things are combined in a piece ot furniture,
material, design, workmanship and finish. The Mahogany As-
sociation label guarantees only that the wood is genuine
Mahogany. However, when yen buy genuine Mahogany, at
least reasonably good design, craftsmanship and finish can be
taken tor granted. Quality materials are seldom wasted in
the rays appear in rows in American Mahogany and usually
are staggered in African Mahogany although this can be seen
clearly only with a hand lens.
Genuine Mahogany, when properly finished, has a fine-
grained, silky appearance, and a rich color that seems to come
from below the surface of the wood. Figured Mahogany is
additionally characterized by the way in which it catches light.
Figure in Mahogany is the result of irregular grain.
As the angle of sight moves straight across the grain of a
figured surface, the dark places remain dark and the light
places remain light. However, when the angle of sight changes
in the direction of the long way of the grain, light and dark
areas will interchange, giving an almost iridescent effect.
When a Mahogany sur-
face is cut with the
grain, the pores show
irregularly as fine pen
When the cut is very
slightly across the grain,
the pores appear as short
■ » ,
Where the cut is rather
strongly across the grain,
the pores appear as dots.
FIGURE IN MAHOGANY
Among the things that help to identify Mahogany are the
many and beautiful figures that occur in it. Perhaps no other
wood is so richly endowed or shows such variety. Like many
other tropical woods Mahogany has an "interlocking" grain.
This characteristic produces some kind of a stripe or ribbon
effect on quartered surfaces. In addition to this general char-
acteristic many trees also show some "curl" in the grain and
this is responsible for endless combinations of broken stripe,
rope, mottle and fiddle figures.
Most distinctive, and generally considered the most
beautiful of wood figures are the famed Mahogany crotches
and swirls. These are rich in contrasting surfaces and in
endless variety of pattern.
On the inside of the front and back covers of this book
are shown the outstanding types of Mahogany figures.
The section just below a
fork in the tree produces
Mahogany 1 s swirl and
The lower part is wood split
with the grain in order to
show interwoven grain; above,
the resulting figure.
COMMON MAHOGANY SUBSTITUTES
(We do not disparage any of the less expensive woods
that are frequently finished to resemble Mahogany. Such woods
have their uses, their place in the economic scheme and are
entitled to receive any treatment at the wood finisher's com-
mand that will make them more attractive. The point we wish
to emphasize as strongly as possible is that they should stand
on their own merits and in their own names and not appropriate
the name "Mahogany" to gain popular acceptance.)
This plentiful southern hardwood lumber is the most
common substitute used for solid framework construction in
connection with Mahogany veneers. It can be distinguished
from Mahogany quite easily as the pores in the wood are too
small to see with the naked eye. If you can't make out the
pores, it's probably gumwood. Anyway, it isn't Mahogany.
The northern yellow birch is another hardwood often given
a " Mahogany" finish. It has even been called "Birch Mahog-
any." It is heavier and harder than gumwood. The pores are
about half-way in size between those of gumwood and Mahog-
any. In good light they are fine but distinct. If one cannot
quite make up his mind whether it is birch or Mahogany it is
Under the name "Philippine Mahogany" a half dozen
or more different species of the Dipterocarp family are being
marketed in the United States. These woods come from trees
in no way related to the trees that produce genuine Mahogany.
In furniture these woods are used largely as solid lumber. When
given a conventional Mahogany finish, they show a superficial
resemblance to Mahogany. Quartered stock especially shows
a stripe figure not unlike that of Mahogany. When compared
with Mahogany, however, the pores are larger and the appear-
ance coarser. These woods are mostly plain and have little
figure except the plain flat cut or the quartered stripe. Mahog-
any shows more life and more depth and changeableness. The
term "Philippine Mahogany" bears somewhat the same rela-
tion to genuine Mahogany that the term "Hudson Seal" (dyed
muskrat) occupies with relation to genuine sealskin.
WHERE TO LOOK FOR SUBSTITUTES
A- Top Rail
C- Back Rail
E- Arm Support
^-F- Seat Rail
— G- Stretchers
The seat rail, arm sup-
ports and legs are the
parts most commonly
substituted. To be gen-
uine Mahogany , the
paints as indicated, also
should be Mahogany.
The most common sub-
stitution in tables is a
Mahogany top with
supporting parts in a
substitute. To be sure
of getting genuine Ma-
hogany, the parts as
indicated also should be
When there is substitu-
tion in "cases" the top
and drawer fronts are
The parts as indi-
cated also should be
SOLID GENUINE MAHOGANY
Mahogany is the only fine cabinet wood of which there
is an ample supply of lumber available at a reasonable cost.
This lumber is also available in greater widths and lengths
and with greater freedom from defect than other fine woods.
Accordingly, solid Mahogany furniture is readily available and
such furniture has several distinct advantages.
In the first place there is more figure in Mahogany
lumber than in the lumber of other cabinet woods, so that tops
and fronts of a dresser or sideboard may be made uniform
by selection of boards of similar appearance either in flat cut
or quartered surfaces. Thus, solid Mahogany has much to
offer in appearance with a variety of stripes, flat cut and
swirly figures available.
The making of cases such as dressers or sideboards of
solid lumber calls for its own technique, but this technique,
properly followed, produces furniture with a high degree of
stability. Solid furniture is comparatively easy to repair and
Because of the large
dimensions of Ma-
hogany, it is possible
to make one-piece
tops such as in this
reproduction of a
refinish if it should happen to receive undue abuse. The record
of solid Mahogany furniture that has passed through the ordeal
of flood is outstanding.
Under this description will be found the major part
of the Mahogany "case goods" made today. Typically, as in a
dresser, the exposed framework is of solid Mahogany lumber
and the top, sides and drawer fronts are of Mahogany-faced
plywood. One advantage of this construction is the greater
beauty available through use of figured and matched veneers
as well as the equalizing of strength and stability in both
directions of the panel. "Veneered" has long been a term of
opprobrium but properly made plywood, bonded with modern
glues is very decidedly a quality product. This type of con-
struction is often advertised as "all Mahogany" in retail stores
with no intent to misrepresent. This is a term that grew up in
the trade to distinguish such a piece as a table with a Mahog-
any plywood top and solid Mahogany legs from one that has
legs of a substitute wood. While it is in no way deceptive
in the trade, it is capable of misleading the uninformed public
and therefore it is a descriptive term that should not be used.
This superb dining room shows English Regency at its best
— the last great style of the century of Mahogany.
(This is a misnomer for "Mahogany and Birch/' etc. Since the wood ot
lesser value is not mentioned, it is therefore a deceptive term that
ju/d not be use
The type of construction sometimes called "Combination
Mahogany 91 is much less common with Mahogany than in furni-
ture in which other kinds of veneers are used. Very common
descriptions of this type of construction are "Mahogany veneers"
— "Top in matched Mahogany veneers," etc. Such descriptions
may be deceptive because, while they stress the use of veneers
with seeming candor, they neglect to inform the public that
exposed solid structural parts are of a substitute wood. The
obvious reason for such construction is a reduction in cost
that may be as small as $2.00 in the retail cost of an ordinary
dining chair. Another term for this construction is "Mahoga-
ny and selected hardwood," thus avoiding specific mention
of the name of the substitute.
(It only this description is given without the actual name of the wood
used, the term "Mahogany Finish" is misleading and should be avoided.;
In most stores, for convenience, economy of effort or
perhaps due to a policy of telling as little as possible, there
is no place on the tag designated for the name of the wood or
woods used in the piece of furniture. There is a place only
for finish, usually followed by such abbreviations as "Man."
« 10 »
or "Mhy." The public, knowing of rooms and walls "trimmed"
or "finished" in Mahogany, often assume that "Mahogany
finish" on a furniture tag means that the piece is made of
Mahogany. "Mahogany finish" is the usual term applied to a
substitute wood finished to resemble Mahogany. Variations
in this deceptive term may be "finished in rich, brown, two-
toned, or antique Mahogany," as the case may be.
Another kind of "finish" is especially dangerous to the
unwary buyer. We refer to photographic transfers of beauti-
fully figured and matched cabinet woods applied to other wood
surfaces. Such finishes are out and out imitations and should
be so described on tags and in advertising. They can be de-
tected by putting the piece in a good light and noting a cer-
tain light or dark section. In real wood dark sections become
light and light sections dark as the angle of sight changes
in the direction of the long way of the grain. In the photo-
graphic surface all dark areas stay dark and all light areas
stay light, no matter from what angle it is viewed. These
imitation finishes have a flat artificial appearance and do
not wear like real wood. The "changeableness" of figured wood
is something that cannot be imitated.
Radio cabinets in
Mahogany are vow
available in a wide
range of styles to
harmonize with 18th
furniture. This cabi-
net was inspired by
John Goddard of
Newport, R.I., who
block- front chests.
SOLID OR VENEERED
There is a very deep-rooted belief that if furniture is
"solid" it is better than furniture that is only "veneered."
There is also much propaganda that the liability to warp and
crack can be avoided only by veneered construction. As a
matter of fact, neither description is a sole criterion of quality.
The very best and the very worst furniture has been made
both solid and veneered for 200 years and today is still being
made both ways.
The Van Pelt Mahogany highboy in the design of the
Philadelphia Chippendale school, which sold a few years ago
for $44,000.00, was veneered in beautiful crotch Mahogany.
The Benjamin Randolph Chippendale wing chair that brought
$33,000.00 at the same sale, was of solid Mahogany. In present
day furniture we have all seen cheap furniture poorly made
of inferior woods both in solid and veneered construction.
Both types of construction are valuable to the art of
making good furniture. The usefulness of each type varies
This chest is made of solid Mahogany lumber with a modest
but pleasing figure,
with the kind of furniture, i.e., chair, dressef, and its design.
There are proper construction methods for using each success-
fully. Generally, lumber is more advisable for structural, turned
or carved parts. Generally, plywood is indicated for larger
The main advantage of plywood is the use of large,
figured or matched surface pieces, giving a pattern and a beauty
not possible with solid lumber. Plywood construction also
equalizes strength and stability in both directions of the surface.
On the other hand, furniture properly designed and constructed
of solid lumber can take more punishment and be repaired
and reflnished more successfully and at less cost.
The reason for this is that veneers are comparatively
thin and rightly so because the thinner veneers are, up to a
certain point, the better they behave. If such surfaces are
smashed or broken through the surface veneer, repairing is
difficult and expensive. On the other hand, solid wood may bo
sanded down to the extent necessary to remove the blemish of
misuse and then be reflnished.
This chest has its frame of solid Mahogany and the top,
sides and front of Mahogany-faced plywood. Note the
highly figured crotch on the front.
« 13 »
Plywood may be any number of layers of wood but usually
an odd number, and five layers are typical of the plywood
used in furniture. The center layer is usually made of rather
narrow boards, glued edge to edge. The thickness of this core
depends upon the required thickness of the panel. Next on both
sides of this core are layers with the grain running at right
angles to it. These layers are called crossbanding and are
usually 1/20" in thickness. Over each crossband, with the
grain running the way of the grain of the core, are the face
and back veneers, usually 1/28" in thickness.
There are many places in furniture construction where
plywood is necessary; for instance, in a thin irregular shaped
chair splat fastened only at the top and bottom. The pierced
gallery around an occasional table top is another good example.
The grand piano rim is probably the most outstanding instance
of plywood construction.
In furniture labeled "Genuine Mahogany" all exposed
surfaces are either of Mahogany faced plywood or of solid
Many people still cling to the idea that "veneering" is
the covering of something that is shoddy with a thin layer of
something that is fine. The use of the word "veneer" in litera-
ture tends to confirm this definition. As a matter of fact the
art of veneering and inlaying is thousands of years old and
today, through the use of improved processes and adhesives,
plywood has become a very superior product.
« 14 -
HOW TO JUDGE QUALITY IN FURNITURE
The best rule is to patronize only stores that have a
well-established reputation for honest merchandise and honest
merchandising. Because a great deal of the real quality in
furniture is hidden, it always pays to buy from a reliable
source. The next best advice is — be sure that you get
genuine Mahogany furniture. If it is genuine Mahogany, you
may be sure that design, workmanship and finish will be at
least reasonably good for the price, for no manufacturer is
going to buy a quality material with which to turn out in-
Some of the earmarks of quality you can see for your-
self. Carvings should be clean, sharp and smooth. Turnings
should be clean and smooth. Plywood should be smooth and
flat. Stand so that the light strikes a table top at an angle.
That will show up any waviness or depressions. Examine
drawer interiors for clean, dove-tail or lock- joint construction.
Note whether the drawer interiors are smoothly finished.
Turn up chairs to see if frame is well joined with tight fitting,
glued and screwed coi*ner blocks. Don't be too much impressed
with so-called "dust-proof" construction. In good furniture
this consists of a tight-fitting framed panel between drawers.
Even poorly constructed furniture may boast some kind of
dust-proof construction, a thin sheet of rotary cut veneer or
even composition board tacked in. Avoid muddy finishes and
dark stains that virtually conceal the wood. On dressers or
other cases look for plywood backs set flush into the frame and
applied with screws rather than backs of card or composition
board nailed on. Note the care with which doors and drawers
have been fitted. Compare the furniture you contemplate
buying with furniture that you know is of fine quality. Beware
of high pressure selling methods, undue emphasis on easy
credit terms and read everything carefully before you sign.
Always remember that it is far better to buy a few good pieces
adding others as you can, than to buy a lot of junk that will
be a headache before it is paid for.
DESCRIPTIONS OF WOOD FURNITURE
The prospective buyer of furniture should know that
there are definite rules for describing wood furniture. These
rules were established in 1925 by the Federal Trade Commission
after conferences with the lumber and furniture industries.
These rules with interpretations are self-explanatory, but it
should be especially noted that wood descriptions apply only
to exposed surfaces.
« 15 »
Rules for the Designation of Furniture Woods
Furniture in which exposed surfaces are of one wood shall be
designated by the name of the wood.
Furniture in which the exposed surfaces are of more than one
kind of wood shall be designated by the names of the
principal woods used.
Interpretation of Rules
1. Exposed surfaces mean those parts of a piece of
furniture which are exposed to view when the piece is placed
in the generally accepted position for use.
2. The exposed surfaces of all furniture or parts thereof
represented as solid shall be of solid wood of the kind or kinds
designated. * (If veneered on the same wood, it may be designated
as a wood of that particular kind. If veneered on a different
wood, it shall be described as veneered.)
3. Cabinet woods, used for decorative purposes where
the effect is solely to add to the artistic value, shall be named
as decorations only.
4. A wood popularly regarded as of lesser value, if its
use is essential to construction, need not be named under
Rule II, if less than a substantial amount is used on ex-
5. A wood popularly regarded as of higher value, shall
not be named under Rule II, if an insubstantial amount of that
wood is used, except as provided in Interpretation 3, above.
6. Designations shall be made in the caption or body
of each particular description without qualification elsewhere.
7. The word "Finish" to designate color, shall only
be used as a description, following the name of the wood used.
8. Where furniture is cataloged, tagged, labeled, ad-
vertised or sold, by retailers, it shall be in accordance with
these Rules and Interpretations.
9. Where furniture is cataloged, tagged, labeled, ad-
vertised, invoiced, or sold, by manufacturers, manufacturers'
representatives, jobbers or wholesalers, it shall be in accordance
with these Rules and Interpretations.
10. The above Rules need not apply to antique furniture.
•The validity of the portion of rule No. 2 included within the brackets was
challenged by the BerkeyS Gay Furniture Company, et al, in a proceeding
nfh,L it ^t^f feS -?fffc° Urt of Appeals, 6th Circuit and under date
-^ 3 fi The Said Umted Staies Circuit Court oi Appeals set aside the
said portion oi Interpretation No. 2. While said decision would not necessarily
be controlling in any new proceeding betore the Federal Trade Commission
involving this question, nevertheless the tact that no appeal was taken by the
Federal Trade Commission from the said decision raises a serious question as
to the validity and enforceability of the said portion of Interpretation No. 2.
« 16 »
THE SOURCES OF MAHOGANY
Mahogany is native only to Tropical America and Africa.
Commercially, only three species are important, although Ma-
hogany is known by many geographical names indicating estab-
lished origins. Thus the West Indian species (Swietenia mahag-
oni) is marketed as Cuban and Santo Domingo Mahogany,
although formerly Jamaica, the Bahamas and other West
Indian islands were sources of production.
On the mainland, we have another species (Swietenia
macrophylla) with Honduras, Mexican and Tabasco as the best
known source names, but with production also from Guatemala,
Nicaragua and Panama. In the past some Mahogany has come
from Colombia and Venezuela, also for the past twenty years
the upper Amazon in western Brazil and Peru have become
important sources. The Mahogany from the upper Amazon
is known as Peruvian and Amazon Mahogany.
Mahogany also comes from the Gold and Ivory Coasts
and from Nigeria on the west coast of Africa and the principal
species (Khaya ivorensis) is known in this country only as
African Mahogany. African Mahogany is the source of our
most highly figured veneers.
C £ A S
Map showing the areas where Mahogany is grown.
THE MAHOGANY LABELS
Fortunately it is not necessary for the buyer of furniture
to be a wood expert in order to be sure of getting genuine
Mahogany. The Mahogany Association, Inc., have prepared
copyright labels that are the exclusive property of the associa-
tion. These labels are issued to responsible manufacturers of
furniture under a license which provides severe penalty for
Although all Mahogany furniture does not yet carry these
labels, they give to the purchasing public the best possible pro-
tection against the sale of substitutes as genuine Mahogany.
In addition to the labels, there are also tags and seals for use
on pieces where the label cannot readily be applied.
The Mahogany labels are colored transfers that cannot
be removed from one piece of furniture and applied to another.
On a case, such as a dresser, the label is usually applied to an
upper drawer side, occasionally to the drawer bottom. On tables
and chairs the labels are most frequently applied underneath.
On a bed they are usually applied to the back of the headboard.
When buying Mahogany furniture
always ask to see these labels.
Mahogany bedroom furniture in contemporary design. Finish
honey tone, trimmed in chocolate brown.
More than 180 manufac-
turers have entered into
a license agreement with
the Mahogany Association
for the use of these labels
and they may be found on
Mahoga n y furniture i n
any good store.
Blue Label, Genuine Mahogany
Red Label, Solid Genuine Mahogany
Exact size of gold
seal for small
tion tags are used
both with the
labels and alone.
While of a tem-
they shoidd ac-
17 02-17 lh
One of the grandest things about
Mahogany is that it came into gen-
eral use during the hundred years
that mark the golden era of good
furniture design. The "Century of
Mahogany" covered the span from
1725 to 1825. During that century
there were developed Early Georgi-
an, Chippendale, Adam, Hepple-
white, Sheraton and Regency in
England with their counterparts in
America: late Colonial and Federal
American as exemplified by Duncan
Phyfe and other great American
cabinetmakers. Mahogany also found
its way into French furniture of
the Louis XV and Louis XVI and
These styles embrace practically
all of the traditional furniture that
is beautiful and practical for our
homes of the present day. No other
wood approaches Mahogany in the
variety and beauty of traditional de-
signs that are authentic only in
Mahogany. Mahogany was the cabi-
net wood used by the great masters
and Mahogany produced the cream
of the crop as garnered and treas-
ured by museums and collectors.
In addition to the undisputed au-
thenticity of Mahogany for the fa-
vored traditional styles it also gives
all of its beauty, stability and dura-
bility to fine furniture in contempo-
rary or modern design. It is availa-
ble in the widest range of figure and
in finishes from blond through the
natural honey tones to the rich
depth of the traditional "Old World"
No matter whether your prefer-
ence is for traditional or contempo-
rary styles, both are always availa-
ble and always better when in Ma-
hogany. As long as the human race
continues to cherish the natural
product of the forest, Mahogany will
find no serious competitor as the
world's No. 1 cabinet wood, a posi-
tion gained through centuries of
preference by those of discriminating
Duncan Phyfe Lived
177 4-17 9 S
THE MANY ADVANTAGES OF
The leadership of Mahogany as the premier cabinet wood
is not an overnight fad, here today and gone tomorrow. It has
stood the test of time through several centuries. It has com-
peted with the great woods of the world and has emerged
as the first choice of those who know fine cabinet woods.
It has variety as well as enduring and increasing beauty.
From plain to highly figured and in both solid lumber and in
veneers, it is available at reasonable prices in fine dimensions
and with freedom from defect. It has long been the cabinet-
maker's choice for it is kind to tools and repays the finisher
in four-fold beauty.
Mahogany leads the field in stability and its strength and
durability are confirmed by the prized possessions of the great
museums. Apparently the chemical nature of Mahogany tend?
to repel certain types of wood destroying insects and tend? to
make Mahogany resistant to organisms of decay.
Mahogany is the ideal wood for the expression of the
finest in contemporary design while it is the one historically
correct and authentic cabinet wood for those favored styles
of the golden age of furniture design, be it Georgian, Chippen-
dale, Hepplewhite, Sheraton, Colonial or Federal American,
Louis XV, Louis XVI, Empire or English Regency.
And it's as true today as it was 100 years ago that —
THERES NOTHING LIKE
THE OLDEST MAHOGANY IN THE WORLD
The Mahogany used in this hand-made Chippendale chair
came from a beam of a demolished house that was built between
1509 and 1515 in the city of Santo Domingo by Don Francisco
Clavijo, a follower of Don Bartolome Columbus, brother of the
discoverer of the new world. At the time it was on the "Street
of Clavijo," but it is now number 39 of the street "21th of
February." This rich wood mellowed by over 425 years is un-
doubtedly the oldest Mahogany in the world.
Mahogany has been the first choice of
master craftsmen from the time of
Chippendale down to the present day.
"There is hardly anything in the world that some man
cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper and the
people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey."
From the collection of:
CANADIAN CENTRE FOR ARCHITECTURE /
CENTRE CANADIEN D'ARCHITECTURE